Where the Heart Is

an excerpt

Trevor Carson stepped out of the door and paused, blinking. Beyond his clinic's porch light it was pitch dark. When had that happened? Surely it had still been light in the west when he finished his last farm call. He'd just come back to clean up and take care of a few loose ends. He'd sat down for a minute to write up the bills before he forgot all the charges...well, and he'd given the diabetic cat that was boarding for the holidays its insulin...and then Rossi had called with that question about his pigs. Which had meant holding the phone in one hand and typing search info into the professional databases with the other. Because you know, pigs...two years taking care of small animals in the city had wiped most of what he knew about pigs out of his brain. So he was slow getting back into the mixed animal game and needed to consult the experts.

Still, it couldn't have been that long. He glanced at his watch. It was only...holy shit, almost eight? He bit his lip, and turned to lock the door quickly. At least he was done. And it was a beautiful night, with stars blazing overhead, like handfuls of sequins tossed across black velvet. Not diamonds, because that was trite and anyway, no one had enough diamonds to match the glory of that star field. He'd come to love the night sky away from the city lights, and the clean cold air, and the silence. Well, almost silence... Silence except for that straining engine...

Trevor looked down the road at the battered station wagon towing a horse trailer toward his clinic, and gauged the distance to his own truck. Twenty feet and he would have been gone. Flying down the highway with Shinedown on the CD player, and Michael waiting at the end of the road. Done for the long day and going home to his private life where he could be as loud and as silly and as fucking gay as he wanted and no one would care. And finally, finally, the man he loved would be waiting there for him.

He was just minutes away from a guy who had travelled seven hours to see him, including that nerve-wracking last two-hundred miles in a puddle-jumper. Only an equal love could have gotten Mike onboard what he called a flying coffin, but he'd willingly made the trip to be with Trevor for Christmas. And now Trevor was going to stand him up.

He could still get to his truck. Except as he drove away his phone would vibrate in his pocket and he would have to pull over to take the call. And he would just turn around and come back, because anything that brought Melanie Brookman out to see him at the vet clinic at eight on Christmas Eve wouldn't be minor. He sighed and ran a hand over his unruly hair, trying to get his professional mind-set back in place. One more moment of regret and then Dr. Carson the country vet clicked back into gear. He hurried toward her car as she pulled to a stop in his parking lot.

"Melanie. What is it?"

She scrambled out her open door. "Dr. Carson. Thank God I caught you. It's Banner. I think he's in trouble. He's been colicking all day but we were walking him and he seemed better. And then he went down and started rolling. I could hardly get him up. And he looks really bad now."

"Damn." Trevor lowered the ramp of the trailer. The pony swaying on its feet in the stall barely came up to his shoulder. It was a little palomino Shetland with flaxen mane and tail as bushy and unruly as Trevor's own dark hair. Round-barreled and sturdy, Banner had taught a generation of kids to ride with gentle patience and was more pet than livestock. Tonight the pony stood with its nose down around its knees and its eyes glazed. Its sides heaved in and out with the effort of its breathing and a crust of frothed sweat clung to its neck and thighs despite the cold air. Shit, shit, shit. As Trevor climbed up into the trailer the pony's knees buckled and it started to go down. Trevor grabbed the halter, and kept Banner standing by force. He freed a hand to lift the pony's lip. Its gums were pale, almost grey. Shit.

"I figured fastest was to bring him to you," Melanie said, hovering at the base of the ramp. "You have that surgery set-up for horses now. You can help him, right?"

Trevor winced at the hope in her voice. The new large animal surgery suite at the clinic had been applauded with great enthusiasm in the wide-flung community when his father had built it, but it wasn't going to work miracles. And when they looked as bad as this pony going in... "I'll do what I can," he said firmly. Think positive. "Let's get him out of the trailer."

Together, they forced the little pony down the ramp. The poor guy was reluctant to move, and every step was a battle to keep him going forward and not lying down. Trevor broke into a sweat as he leaned his whole weight against the pony's shoulder and hauled up on the halter. At least they had the assist of gravity going down the ramp.

They finally had Banner with all four feet on the snowy pavement. "How did you ever get this guy up into the trailer?" Trevor asked, He slung the end of the lead rope behind the pony's rump and began coaxing and tugging him toward the clinic's barn entrance.

"I don't know." Melanie choked a sob. "Prayer and the grace of God I guess. And he wasn't this bad then. He was willing to walk some. He's going downhill fast. I've been praying to Jesus the whole way here that he'd survive the trip. Thank the good Lord I got here before you left."

Trevor hid his wince at the God-speak. In this neck of the woods God and a gay man were not on speaking terms. Which was why he didn't know if "Dr. Carson" could afford to be gay, and why Mike was still living a thousand miles away, and why...he yanked his attention back to the job at hand, unlocking and bumping the clinic barn door open wide with his hip to let them in. "Come on back, Melanie. Until Sharon gets here, you're the only extra pair of hands I have."

He put the pony in the empty box stall and shoved the lead rope into Melanie's hand. "Keep him on his feet if you possibly can. I'll be quick as I can."

Trevor hurried toward the inner door, pulling out his phone as he ran. He fumbled with the lights with one hand while speed dialing. "Sharon?"

"Dr. Carson?" His technician's voice held a mixture of anxiety and resignation. She knew a call from him at this hour was likely to be trouble.

"Sharon, um, what are you doing right now?" It was Christmas Eve. Trevor considered his options as he headed to the storeroom to grab his coveralls and get the supplies.

"I'm sitting in front of a fire with Doyle and the kids, debating on how many cookies to leave out for Santa. You?"

"I'm at the clinic."

"Just spit it out, Doctor."

"Melanie Brookman's here with Banner. He's colicking and it's bad. We might be able to sedate and roll him. If not..." He let his voice trail off.

Sharon's sigh could practically have blown the phone out of Trevor's hand, but she said, "Twenty minutes, Doctor. Best I can do."

"Thank-you." The two techs rotated on call, and split the holiday. Sharon was reliable and committed. She would be there as fast as possible.